We had the good fortune of connecting with Katie Wells and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Katie, alright, let’s jump in with a deep one – what’s you’re definition for success?
The American work mythos preaches “Make Your Mark.” But when it comes to traveling in the outdoors our objective is to “Leave No Trace.” You pack out everything you bring in. You throw rocks and leaves over your campsite to disguise it. You wash your bowl 200 feet from water because you don’t want your soap harming frogs and fish. Hell, I don’t use soap most of the time. I scrub my bowl water and pine needles. I step around the flowers. You want every person who goes through there to feel like they were the first human being to stand on that spot. You recognize that the forms of nature are inherently beautiful and that you are one of those forms. You recognize the inherent worthiness of all life, including your own. I think that’s why my work is so observant of the natural world. A mountain isn’t “succeeding” – it’s just being. Have you ever tried to measure yourself to a mountain? Which of you is mightier? I think that’s why I come back time and time again to landscapes, particularly those of the Sierras. People, when I include them, are given equal weight as the rocks and the mule’s ears and the broken trees. That isn’t to say you can’t work hard or achieve things. You absolutely can and should. But keep it in perspective. A lot of us want “success” because we actually want love and belonging. We keep posting work on social media, hoping to build enough social capital to make ourselves feel worthy of the love of others. In reality nobody truly loved someone because they were “successful,” they loved them because they made them feel loved. I want my work to help people zoom out: see their place in the greater whole. By making yourself smaller in the frame you see how you connect to other people and the world around you. Helping others recognize their connection and worthiness is “success” to me. 

Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
So for work I am a Background Designer at Cartoon Network on a wonderful show called Craig of the Creek. If you haven’t seen that show yet YOU SHOULD because it is heartfelt and hilarious and the crew is stacked with talented, loving people. In my free time I backpack A LOT with my husband on the Pacific Crest Trail and paint watercolor landscapes. (The PCT is a scenic trail stretching 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada. We’ve hiked a little over a 1/4 of it!) I also do larger pieces in acrylic like the one featured in this interview! Getting here wasn’t easy but I had a lot of help. Two people with an enormous place in my heart are Al Sparks and Cory Fuller. Al taught me how to paint by sharing his enormous well of knowledge about light, color, and the specular properties of objects! He also gave me a crash course in the deeper workings of Adobe Photoshop – a program I use everyday at work. Cory is the Lead Background Designer on Craig of the Creek. She taught me how to observe and match the distinct styles of different productions, how to give simple objects charm and character, and how to navigate the animation industry. They are both insanely talented, humble, and down to earth humans. They are shy but go follow them anyway! The best advice I can give is to make genuine friendships. You can’t do this alone. Don’t latch onto people with hopes of your own self promotion. People can smell that a mile away. Be a good person. Ask for opportunities – and when they are given to you – bust your ass to deliver what you promised. Over time a good heart and an ability to consistently deliver will earn you your place in this world. Be patient with yourself. Prioritize your physical and mental well being. There are plenty of artists making a living without huge social media followings. What I want you to know about me is that I will never be the most important artist in the room but I am at peace with myself and proud of the work I make. This is a crazy time. Be good. Be humble. Be loving.

Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Pick up a burrito and head due East up Highway 2 into the Angeles National Forest. Stash the truck near Inspiration Point and swing our legs on the tailgate looking at the hazy view of downtown. Get to talking to the people up there. Befriend a small group of bikers, accept a couple cold Rolling Rocks offered, and hear their stories. Vow never to get a motorcycle. Start hoofing it on the Pacific Crest Trail headed North. Stop to paint some wildflowers. Meet a cool thru-hiker, probably from Germany or Australia but who knows maybe they’re from Redlands. Make a friend. Head North. Camp in a shady grove of manzanita trees. Read Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology to fall asleep. Get spooked by mountain lion footprints around the tent in the morning. Head North. Learn to love the yucca flowers, cholla cacti, and chaparral covered hills. Abandon our plan to return home. Become one with the Joshua Trees. Continue into the Sierras. Watch the moon rise on the surface of a glassy lake. Swim in snowmelt. Decide that ugly trees are more beautiful. Five months later arrive at the Canadian border. Celebrate our achievement with boxed wine.

The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Today I want to shoutout my high school art teacher Mathew Buckley – not just for teaching me how to draw but for teaching me how to critically look at my own work. We spent a lot of time staring at my drawings and paintings turned upside down or sidewise – anything to break the blindness that comes when you’ve been looking at the same thing too long. He never gave out the answer for free: he’d always wait for me to see and say what I had to do next. His knack for throwing out increasingly difficult assignments while refraining from hollow praise kept me relentlessly engaged and curious. I’ve had teachers since then with bigger egos and more belligerent teaching styles but Mr. Buckley’s quiet refusal to let me be stupid still stands out to me as the simplest path towards artistic progress. Mr. Buckley was (and still is) an incredibly kind person famous for his hippie helmet bandana style and epic cross country bike adventures. He also opened my eyes to the fact that your life extends far beyond your work. For that I am forever grateful.

Website: https://ohkatiewells.com/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ohkatiewells/
Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/katie-wells-6499396a/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/ohkatiewells

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